Due to inconsiderate people damaging the grass BBQs and fires have become a contentious issue on Jesus Green and Midsummer Common in recent years. There have also been many problems with vehicles churning up the grass and damaging the edges of paths on both spaces.
Given this background it was astonishing that earlier today barbecue producer and distributor Big Green Egg decided to roll onto Midsummer Common with a large green open top bus and a motorhome. They appeared to be barbecuing using an array of differently sized cooking devices from the top deck of the bus. You really couldn’t make it up.
At the time I came across the antics the demonstration did not appear to have attracted any public attention, but many cyclists found their paths blocked by the vehicles and a number of people were photographing the vehicles on the common, recording registration numbers, and discussing the fact that they shouldn’t be there.
Cambridge City Council’s Green Spaces manager, Alistair Wilson, turned up. Presumably someone had called the council. I asked him if he knew anything about the BBQ bus and if the council had given them permission to operate on the common. Mr Wilson said: “no” and branded the BBQ salesmen:
Mr Wilson and a colleague (perhaps a security or legal officer?) escorted the vehicles off the common; forcing the bus to reverse all the way out to Victoria Avenue so as not to cause any further damage to the grass. (The council is currently re-seeding a number of areas next to the paths). The entourage was expelled with only a few small branches of a weeping willow being torn down and a little contact between the roof of the bus and the Horse Chestnut tree at the entrance to the common.
Cambridge City Council levy charges for those using the commons for events; presumably Big Green Egg will be getting an invoice.
Those operating the bus, BBQ and motorhome had New Zealand or South African accents. Big Green Egg appears to be a USA based company. The UK distributor for Big Green Egg is Alfresco Concepts UK based in Great Bircham near Kings Lynn.
A week or so ago I was interviewed for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire following Liberal Democrat Cllr Cantrill’s announcement that Cambridge City Council will be adopting a policy of “soft enforcement” of the laws which forbid fires and barbecues on the green spaces. While wishy washy and typically Liberal Democrat this is a slight improvement on the position Cllr Cantrill took last year when he equivocated and decided not to support enforcement of the rules banning BBQs.
Speaking at the last full council meeting Arbury Liberal Democrat Cllr Tim Ward expressed support for bonfires on Midsummer Common, and for youngsters to drink alcohol at them – arguing that was a relatively safe place and manner for young teenagers to go out drinking.
Earlier this year the Liberal Democrat run council placed signs on many of the city’s green spaces, including Midsummer Common and Jesus Green pointing out fires are banned and citing the relevant legislation. The signs do not espouse the true fence sitting attitude and approach to enforcement currently being taken.
The council is to provide a BBQ platform on Jesus Green, but demand will surely exceed supply on many summer days. It is not yet clear if those using the council provided facilities will be given an exemption from the ban on fires, or if the council is planning to build something it would be illegal to use.
The damage to the grass from last year’s BBQs is still visible. My view is that Cllr Cantrill, as the councillor with responsibility for the city’s green spaces, ought be conserving the city’s green spaces and ought be prepared to defend them against reckless vandalism.
While it was great to see the council swiftly act against the Big Green Egg BBQs, I hope they will also take action against those who while not drawing attention to themselves by turning up in a huge open top double decker bus with three BBQs on top, do more damage with simple disposable BBQs placed directly on the grass.